H arry Singh, the co-owner of House of Naan, says his new restaurant is an attempt to modernize Indian cuisine. “There are a lot of traditional Indian restaurants in Connecticut,” he says. “We thought it was a good idea to bring small plates and a cocktail bar to the scene.” Singh would know about more traditional Indian eateries: his father has been cooking his entire life and is the owner of New Haven mainstay Sitar, which opened 10 years ago.
Singh spent five of those years working alongside his father, learning “the business inside and out” before firing up his own ovens on Howe Street, with his co-owner Karandeep Singh (no relation). Harry wants House of Naan to have a modern atmosphere, with blonde wood and tricolor stone walls, a long granite bar and slick plating. He and Karandeep chose their location, just north of Chapel, with the future of the city in mind. “Howe is on the rise,” Harry says. “We’re trying to make this street into something like College or Crown Street. A place where people can come out for a bite and have a great time.”
One of Harry’s favorite meals at House of Naan is the Spiced Lamb Burger, which he says is a good representation of the restaurant’s ability to bring traditional Indian flavors and ingredients to contemporary palates. That’s also led to items like the Tamarind Hummus, where the fruit adds tang and lightness to a dish that might otherwise be too familiar, and the Eggplant Chaat, offering thinly sliced coins of eggplant lightly coated with a crisp crust, topped with onions, tomatoes, curd, chaat masala and mint and tamarind chutneys. Spicy and earthy with a touch of crunch, for an eggplant skeptic like myself, it was a revelation.
While House takes some risks with the food, like combining mozzarella and tikka masala with an American favorite to create its Tikka Fries, you’re bound to find some of your favorites from more traditional Indian menus. The cocktail menu, however, takes a larger leap into the unknown. Roger Gross (pictured above), the bartender and manager, says, “I’m not gonna lie. I’ve been making cocktails for a long time and this is a whole different experience.” When asked for a favorite drink, he says, “I like all of them because I helped create them… They all feature a different kind of Indian twist.”
He mixes up two drinks for me: the Howe Street Tea and a Sip ’n’ Savor Lassi. The lassi drink is made with Bols yogurt liquor, a surprisingly sweet (and potent) take on the traditional yogurt drink. The star of the show, however, was the Howe Street Tea. The drink, which starts with Bulldog gin, was full of delectable surprises—not least of which were the house-made Darjeeling tea syrup and chickpea water that, when shaken vigorously, creates a snowy white foam that Gross refers to as “sexy.”
Gross also takes pride in the Garam Masala syrup, used in both the lassi and the House Old Fashioned. “It’s especially fun to make because you have to hand-select your peppercorns, your cinnamon sticks, your black cardamom, your green cardamom,” he says. “You take them, crack those spices, toast them and then make a syrup out of them… I knew I was doing it right when the chef tasted it and liked it. He’s always my litmus test.”
House of Naan has only been open for four weeks, but the owners are convinced they’re on the crest of a couple new waves: the developing scene on Howe Street, and a new way of eating—and drinking—Indian flavors.
Written and photographed by Sorrel Westbrook.